UPDATED: Pro-Palestinian groups urged the Norwegian government to expel Israel’s ambassador and implement sanctions against the country, after Israel resumed attacks against the Gaza strip on Tuesday afternoon despite agreeing to a ceasefire earlier that day. Foreign Minister Børge Brende dismissed the calls, saying they were neither serious nor constructive, shortly before he was forced to flee a rocket attack in Israel. Meanwhile, Norway’s Directorate of Health recommended the government send more financial and health support to the Gaza Strip, and even consider taking in wounded Palestinians.
“Norway can not uncritically maintain close diplomatic relations with a state that does not show respect for human life, international treaties or UN conventions,” the leader of the Joint Committee for Palestine (Fellesutvalget for Palestina, FuP), Anna Lund Bjørnsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “To expel the ambassador from Norway is a clear expression that we do not accept the war crimes and massacre Israel now carries out in Gaza.”
“Israel must stop the collective punishment of the Palestinians and end the bombing of Gaza, the third war against Gaza in five years,” agreed Kathrine Jensen from the Palestine Committee of Norway (Palestinakomiteen i Norge). “Israel is breaking international law by attacking civilian Palestinians and properties there. As a UN member Norway must be decent enough and have the backbone to sanction Israel for this, despite some states’ veto rights in the Security Council.”
Foreign Minister Børge Brende traveled to the Middle East on Tuesday to take part in ceasefire and peace talks between Israel and Hamas. Israel agreed to a ceasefire deal brokered by Egypt on Tuesday morning, but by the afternoon had intensified its attacks on Gaza. Hamas refused to consider any peace deal until Israel lifts the blockade that has surrounded Gaza since 2007, and continued firing rockets towards Israel while the ceasefire agreement was discussed.
The death toll in Palestine reached at least 194 by Tuesday night, while Israel suffered its first fatality of the conflict. “It would be preferable if we could have solved this diplomatically, and that is what we have tried to do when we accepted the offer of a ceasefire from Egypt,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told news service Reuters. “But Hamas gave us no other choice than to expand and intensify the military action.”
“Børge Brende must realize that Israel cannot be talked into peace,” Bjørnsen argued. The Foreign Minister himself was forced to take cover on Wednesday, after several Hamas rockets landed near the restaurant in Ashkelon where he was meeting with Israeli colleague Avigdor Lieberman.
Responsibility to contribute to peace
“I don’t think that is a constructive and serious contribution,” Brende told NRK. “The strength of Norway as the leader of the donor coordination group to Palestine is that we can talk with all parties, and all western European countries have diplomatic relations with Israel.”
“What Norway is now prioritizing is to put in place a ceasefire and a lasting peace solution, so that you end the humanitarian suffering you see in Gaza and the West Bank,” he continued. “That is Norway’s policy and attitude, and it is the broad political agreement of Parliament.”
He added that Israel had a particular responsibility in driving the peace process because its illegal settlements were the key to the conflict. Brende said it was critical that the states brokered a permanent bilateral solution.
Medical and financial aid urged
The Norwegian Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet) was asked by the authorities for advice on how Norway could best contribute to the escalating crisis. The directorate recommended sending Norwegian medical personnel, supplies and financial support, reported news bureau NTB on Wednesday. Another alternative was for Norway to receive wounded Palestinians.
Foreign Affairs Ministry communications adviser Astrid Sehl said the government’s first priority is to get help into the Gaza Strip to treat the wounded there. “What we have done in the first place is give NOK 30 million (USD 4.8 million) for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip,” she said. “The money goes mainly to emergency medical care. We have chosen to channel this to organizations which are operating on the ground. In addition the Norwegian authorities are considering running other assistance, including the input from the directorate.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Secretary General Jan Egeland said providing equipment and assistance in the surrounding area would in the majority of cases be the most effective solution, rather than transporting patients to Norway.
Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse are two Norwegian doctors working in a Gaza hospital. Gilbert told NTB the shortage of medical supplies was incredibly frustrating, and it was heartbreaking seeing exhausted parents running into the hospital with a wounded child in their arms.
“It is an incredibly difficult situation, here at Shifa hospital as well,” he said. “There are acute shortages of everything form medicines to equipment, from intravenous fluid to needle and threads to sew up the wounded with. The conditions are now at breaking point and Shifa in many ways is becoming run as a field hospital. It should be completely obvious to everyone that the supply lines here must be kept open.”